Two Views, One Conversation: Light Shed on School Vouchers at Law School Program

Even in a social media world, I’m still a big backer of the notion that serious, informative, in-person dialogue about major public issues is a good thing. The more contentious and important the subject and the more level-headed the discussion, the better. When it comes to contentiousness and importance, almost nothing in the realm of education policy rivals the subject of private school vouchers for kindergartner through twelfth grade students. Milwaukee was the place where vouchers for low-income, urban students were launched in1990. And, with the election of Donald Trump as president and Trump’s selection of voucher-advocate Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education, vouchers are a hot subject.

All of this is to say that I thought the hour-long session at Marquette Law School on Wednesday was worth listening to, and the opportunity to do that remains, as you can find at the end of this blog item. In a program titled Lessons from a Quarter Century of School Vouchers: One Conversation, Two Points of View, we brought together Scott Jensen, a key figure in the voucher movement in Wisconsin and now an adviser to the American Federation for Children, a school-choice advocacy group headed by DeVos, and Julie Underwood, a professor in the education and law schools at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a long-time advocate for public schools.

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Sampling the Strong Stew of Thoughts at Eckstein Hall Education Conference

Given the long list of controversial and major decisions to be made soon as the process of setting Wisconsin’s state budget for the next two years comes to a head, it was remarkable how much agreement there was among speakers at the wide-ranging conference on kindergarten through twelfth grade education policy Monday at Eckstein Hall.

“Pivotal Points: A Forum on Key Wisconsin Education Issues as Big Decisions Approach” brought together key figures involved in politics, schools, and education policy before a full-house audience in the Appellate Courtroom.

Yes, there were differences. But speakers covering a spectrum of views found a lot in common, including the need for stable, adequate funding of schools and stable, effective approaches to dealing with assessing students and tackling the challenges of schools where success is not common.

The four-hour conference opened with welcoming remarks from Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell and ended with something close to agreement by a Republican and Democrat involved in State Assembly education policy that “low performing” schools need support and help more than they need to be closed.

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MPS Is at a “Tipping Point,” Driver Tells Law School Audience

The Milwaukee Public Schools system is “at a tipping point” where improvements in how the system is run and a strong base of community support need to lead to better overall academic achievement for students, the new superintendent of MPS, Darienne Driver, said Wednesday.

Speaking at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall, Driver said, “We have to get results.” But she said MPS is going through a lot of transitions that are helping make schools poised to do that.

But Driver, who became superintendent Oct. 1, spoke a short time after two influential Republican legislators in Madison released the outlines of a plan to deal with poverty in Milwaukee that could see control of some low-performing schools taken from MPS and given to independent charter schools. The ideas floated by Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga suggest the tough time MPS is likely to have in the current legislative session.

Driver said the ideas from Darling and Kooyenga “really get away from the investment we should be making in our public schools.” She said it could be “devastating” to schools that would be closed and re-opened. The idea of creating something similar to the Recovery School District in New Orleans, which the legislators suggested, is a distraction that would not yield good results overall, Driver said.

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